Trekking through the ages
“The centre’s mission is to promote our rich land and to make knowledge available of how it can be enjoyed in all seasons,”
In 1877, a 15th-century building was discovered tucked away behind Barcelona’s Cathedral, supported by three columns from an ancient, first-century Roman temple. Some 30 years later, Catalan architect Lluis Domènech i Montaner restored the gothic courtyard around these columns, which remains today as the grand entrance to the Centre Excursionista de Catalunya (CEC).
The centre’s activities are divided into two sections: sports (mountaineering, climbing, skiing, camping and caving) and culture (photography, history of art, amateur cinema, geography and natural sciences). This dual nature dates back to the Romantic period, when 19-year-old art student Josep Fiter established the Catalan Natural Science Association. Following Valentí Almirall’s Lo Catalanisme (1886) the first publication of its kind to define a Catalunya distinct from the rest of Spain, people began to discover the boundaries of Catalan culture. “Part of this was to explore Catalan life in the mountains,” explained CEC president Josep Manel Puente.
As the ‘excursionisme’ movement emerged, the Science Association evolved into Spain’s first hiking centre, Centre Excursionista de Catalunya. First and foremost, the centre’s priority was to defend the Catalan culture and language, and some of Catalunya’s most prominent historical figures had a part to play. Architecture, integral to Catalunya’s cultural history saw Antoni Gaudí and Josep Puig i Cadafalch as members of the CEC, while before cartography had been fully developed, Santiago Rusiñol sketched maps of the Pyrenees. Later in around 1880, the centre created the first catalogue of Catalunya’s maps.
During its 130-year history the CEC has developed social and cultural ideas to encourage an appreciation of Catalunya’s wild places. “The centre’s mission is to promote our rich land and to make knowledge available of how it can be enjoyed in all seasons,” said Puente, and the diverse monthly programme of activities goes a long way toward achieving this.
On any given day during its regular afternoon opening hours, visitors to the centre find themselves in the middle of a lot of social activity. Concerts, exhibitions, conferences and excursion meetings occupy the lecture rooms, while sporting and mountaineering veterans also give courses. From beginner to advanced levels, there are courses in rock climbing, hiking, alpine skiing, first aid and, more recently, digital cartography and photography.
Despite its illustrious history, the centre is yet to reach its peak. Pioneers of mountain skiing in Spain—climbing high Pyrenees’ peaks to ski down—CEC members have been campaigning for over 40 years to elevate its status to join the ranks of alpine and cross-country skiing as an Olympic sport. “This is something we hope to see happen by the 2014 Winter Olympic Games,” Puente said, with a smile.
Until then, the centre’s future lies in the approach of its ‘second phase.’ A major part of this is an outreach to foreigners. The centre wants to go beyond its appeal to a strictly native membership, and to offer foreigners in Catalunya the same opportunities to explore the beauty on their doorstep. With 50 percent of trekkers who stay in the centre’s refuges each year being foreign, it seems a natural step forward to encourage their keen interest in hiking throughout Catalunya. The CEC website is currently being updated in English, and if enough people subscribe to a particular course and require it in another language, the centre would do it, according to Puente. “Hiking is Catalunya’s most popular sport as our society is far more interested in exploring nature on foot. Our second phase is to open up to all nationalities.”
Centre Excursionista de Catalunya
Carrer Paradís, 10, pral.
Tel. 93 315 2311